Native peoples in the United States voted across the nation in this election on every level, from presidential to local, on both sides of the aisle and outside of the two-party system. Their votes — along with Black and indigenous organizers — are credited with flipping key counties and areas for Biden in what is seen as almost a surprising turnout. Meanwhile, the reaction from officials in the Democratic party was to portray the Native vote as coming out of nowhere and helping to elect Joe Biden.
Nevertheless, we cannot assume Native voters are a monolith — that all Native voters will vote Democrat — just as we can’t assume white, Black or Latinx voters will all vote for the same candidate. Just because there is a high population of Native voters in states like Oklahoma, Alaska, Arizona and North Dakota, we can’t assume those states will go blue because of the Native voters or indigenous systems in place. And we cannot take the Native vote for granted.
Despite the fact that the United States government was founded by and for colonizers, with one of their primary goals to wipe out indigenous populations across this land, indigenous peoples have participated in this country’s government, their elections, this democracy, since even before we were considered citizens of the land we are Native to. This continues to be the case in 2020, as maps show us the places with high Native populations in Arizona that directly correlate to blue counties, and flipped blue counties, and articles praise Native women who lead groups of voters to the polls on horseback.
But despite the fact that Native votes were impactful across the country, even major news outlets refused to acknowledge this in their coverage of election results. When breaking down votes by race, CNN credited the Native vote to a group of people known as “Something Else.” Native voices cannot be ignored in this election or in American politics in general.
In spite of the importance of the Native vote, especially in the most recent presidential election, Native voters, as well as other BIPOC voters, should never be chastised by campaigns, the government, or those advocating to get out the vote, for choosing not to vote. So many Native voters and communities do not see voting, especially in a presidential race between two white men, as a form of harm reduction, because the presidency and the rest of the federal government were not formed to serve us. Helping our communities can take place with so many other forms of engagement, whether that is participating in tribal government, or fighting to protect our land and water rights or learning our language and how to make our art. Voting is a very colonial way to view harm reduction.
People on all sides of the aisle, of all races and ethnicities, understand that the two-party system and hyper partisanship can be extremely harmful to progress and representative politics in our country. Native voters are the rightful owners of this land and the first inhabitants of the place now known as the United States, this system of government was not designed for us to participate in. It was designed to keep us out and to eliminate us.
If politicians want the Native vote and its impact, they need to start prioritizing Native communities. We cannot praise the Navajo nation for voting and helping to flip Arizona and then ignore them. We need to recognize that this election was won by Black and Indigenous organizers across the country.
This administration and elected officials on every level need to actually recognize and fight for Indigenous issues, because they are important to everyone, Indigenous and not. To the young Black and Indigenous organizers, voters, non-voters, students and advocates: Y gaaw wÈ haa eet koowahaaÖ. It is our turn to act now. On every level of civil engagement.
EVAN ROBERTS is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. She is the president of the Association of Native Americans at Yale. Contact her at email@example.com.